History of cocoa

Cocoa speaks to all our senses. It hase been a part of our lives for a long time and has even been used as a form of payment!

2000 BC: Pre Olmecs

Recently researchers discovered that the pre Olmecs (first major civilization in Guatemala and Mexico) used cocoa in certain types of drinks. Around this time people used a spicey mix of cocoa, corn, vanilla and chilli peppers. This stands in contrast with the famous drink we use cocoa for: chocolate milk.

1200 AC: Food of the Gods

The Latin name for cocoa is’ Theobroma ‘which literally means ‘food of the Gods.’ For many South American cultures cocoa was very valuable. The Aztecs used cocoa beans as a stimulant, in addition to the cocoa bean they added ingredients to it, to improve its taste. Just as we now add ingredients to make chocolate from cocoa. The Mayans used cocoa to create a drink which could be shared during bethrothal and marriage.

1500 AC: Aztecs

In 1519 the Europeans first encountered cocoa, when they came into contact with the Aztec society. The Conquistadores brought the cocoa to king Philip the second of Spain. Spanish monks enriched the cocoa with honey, vanilla and later on sugar. This would be the foundation for the sweet chocolate drink as we now know it today.

cocoa aztecs

1600 AC: Gaining popularity

Chocolate gains popularity among the Italian, French, German, Swiss and Dutch nobleman. Chocolates became available in London coffee and chocolate houses and the French chocolatiers started to make bonbons.

1700 AC: food of the gods

Linnaeus (father of modern-day taxonomic plant classification) gives the cocoa tree its first official botanic name: Theobroma cocoa. Which stand for ‘food of the gods’. In 1700 AC Spain holds a monopoli position in the cocoa trade, Italy, The Netherlands and Portugal start their own cocoa-crops in Venezuela, Chocolate is imported to the USA in 1765 and Doret builds the first automatic machine which grinds cocoa beans.

1800 AC: cocoa arrives in Africa

In 1828 the Dutchman Coenraad van Houten invents a revolutionary cocoa press. The machine makes it possible to separate the liquid and solid parts of the cocoa bean. The defatted powder, as a result of this new machine, made it possible to mix the powder with other liquids. The world became more and more excited about chocolate, and as a result the demand grew very quickly. The political instability grew at the same time in Latin America and agricultural workers became more rare. For this reason people started growing their cocoa trees in countries like Brazil, Ecuador and some countries in Africa. It would take some time before the cocoa would become successful in Africa. Eventually the cocoa became very successful in their new surroundings. In 1840 the first chocolate bars were produced. In 1870 Tetteh Quarshie introduced the cocoa crops to Ghana (a pre-independence Ghanaian) which today constitute one of the major export crops of the Ghanaian economy. In 1847 Joseph Fry creates a moldable paste of cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter. In 1865, for the first time, chocolate was mixed with hazelnut paste. 1867 Henri Nestlé invents powdered chocolate.

In many European countries chocolate was protected by law until at the end of the 19th century, because a lot of fraud took place: many manufacturers produced cheap chocolate by replacing cocoa with cocoa shells and cocoa butter by other fats. In 1894 the Belgian government determined that the minimal amount of cocoa that should be in chocolate was 35%. The new rules made sure that the quality of chocolate improved.

1900 AC: modern trends

In 1913 Jules Sechaud invents machinery for filling chocolates. In 1984 Venezuela’s Chocolates El Rey launches tempered chocolate with a high cocoa butter content and the trend of artisanal chocolates takes off.